If you're in your 30s with extra-irritated skin, almost to the point where people constantly think you're blushing, it could be rosacea, not acne, you're dealing with. "One of the most common mistakes people make is using the wrong products on their skin because they dont know which condition they are dealing with," says Dr. Doris Day, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who specializes in laser, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology. "Acne treatments can often exacerbate and irritate skin with rosacea, and while the two conditions look very similar, they have different causes and treatments." Take a look at the differences between these two conditions and how you should treat each. (Hint: It takes more than a dab of Clearasil!)
RB: What are the differences between acne and rosacea?
DD: The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but it tends to appear across the nose, forehead, and cheeks and may look like diffused redness through skin and pimplelike bumps. Rosacea also has triggers that can cause flare-ups, such as extreme temperatures, alcohol, and spicy foods. Most commonly, rosacea first appears in people over 30.
Acne is caused by factors such as bacteria that clog the pores, and can appear at any age. In adults, acne is usually concentrated on the lower part of the face. Other symptoms include blackheads, or visibly clogged pores, and whiteheads. It's important to go to an expert from the start if you expect you might have rosacea to get correctly diagnosed.
RB: Besides visiting a dermatologist, is there an easy way to distinguish one from the other yourself first?
DD: If you have rosacea, you may notice that your skin flushes or flares up when you are exposed to triggers such as heat, cold, or ingredients like soy or chili. Because rosacea and acne can look similar, even though there are different factors at play, it is best to seek expert help early from a dermatologist, especially since some treatments used for acne can make rosacea worse.
RB: How is the treatment for rosacea different from acne?
DD: Unlike acne, since there is no bacteria involved in rosacea, the treatments are very different. A dermatologist may prescribe topical treatments to calm redness or oral, anti-inflammatory therapies such as Oracea to help treat the bumps and blemishes of rosacea.
RB: What ingredients should you avoid for both skin issues?
DD: As a general rule of thumb for both acne and rosacea, I would advise choosing products that are fragrance- and dye-free. Pick noncomedogenic products, and keep in mind that even if something is labeled "organic" and "natural," it doesn't mean that it is gentle.